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The Village Still Ignores the Most Important Point

8:48 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

In recent posts I reviewed two commentaries by Abby Huntsman on Social Security and other entitlements, also noting points made in other critiques of her narratives. Abby’s commentaries are here, and here, and my critiques are here and here. The most important point I emphasized in my two rebuttals is that there are no fiscal solvency or sustainability issues related to Social Security, or other parts of the safety net, but that the issues involve only the willingness of Congress to appropriate entitlement spending, and either the removal of current constraints on Treasury to spend appropriations such as the debt limit, or the willingness of the Executive Branch to use its current legislative authority either to a) generate sufficient seigniorage from platinum coins to spend such appropriations; or b) use a type of debt instrument, such as consols, which aren’t counted toward the debt limit.

The day before I posted my second reply to Abby Huntsman, Richard J. Eskow and WeActRadio posted this video clip from Eskow’s radio broadcast. In his critique, Richard shows that Abby Huntsman’s treatment of Social Security and entitlements is full of misleading information and hews closely to the narrative offered by Alan Simpson, Pete Peterson, and organizations supported by Peterson funding, and he calls for the MSNBC producers of “The Cycle” to issue statements correcting the facts, and to give Abby’s co-hosts on The Cycle a chance to reply to her about social security. Read the rest of this entry →

When You Really Look, Financial Quicksand Turns Into Oligarchical BS

9:09 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Why do you say that the Government will have a solvency problem?

Abby Huntsman’s first rant about entitlements soliciting generational warfare got a lot of pushback from defenders. I reviewed the main points made in defense of entitlements, and then added “the most important point of all” as well. Abby made a second try, however, this time singling out Michael Hiltzik’s reply to her to respond to and adding a few more points, while withdrawing a bit from her claim that life expectancy has changed very much for seniors since the New Deal period. Hiltzik took issue with that one too. Let’s review Huntsman’s reply to Hiltzik by analyzing the MSNBC transcript of her second rant against entitlements.

Abby Huntsman:

. . . the need for entitlement reform. there was a firestorm of reaction. an article in the ” l.a. times” went as far as to say i want to lead my generation into poverty. come on, man. this isn’t about me. it’s about the major problem.

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The Most Important Point of All Was Ignored

8:43 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

On Abby Hunstman’s right wing Petersonian “Fix the Debt” rant

MSNBC’s right wing representative on The Cycle, Abby Huntsman, got a lot of pushback from Social Security defenders after her rant last week. They made points similar to the following in countering Huntsman:

– SS is not bankrupt now, it has $2.6 Trillion in Treasury IOUs in the SS “trust fund” accumulated because Treasury has used FICA collections to “pay for” other Federal spending since 1983, when the Government began to collect more from workers and employers than was paid out to beneficiaries. The accumulated IOUs, projected interest on them, and future FICA collections are projected as being enough to “cover” 100% of SS benefits until 2033, and then 75% of benefits thereafter. 100% of benefits could be “covered” from 2033 on, if the payroll tax cap on Social Security were to be removed.

– Huntsman’s claim that seniors have longer life expectancies than when SS first was enacted is greatly exaggerated, because life expectancies at birth have improved due to improvements in infant mortality rates. But they haven’t improved nearly as much at age 65 and older, and apart from that, the improvement that exists after age 65 is reached is primarily concentrated among certain social groups, and that the poorest and most needy groups in our population, who need SS the most, have either seen little improvement in life expectancy, or even a decline in life expectancy in recent years.

– Savings of seniors now average very little more than is needed for them to cover Medical expenses due to aging and there is precious little left over for living expenses beyond what SS spending will cover.

– Huntsman is conflating the SS “Trust Fund” running out of money in 2033, with SS running out of money. The first is happening as it was always planned to happen when the Reagan Administration and Congress agreed to raise FICA payments to almost double the amount previously paid, for the boomer generation to cover its retirement benefits; but the second depends on what Congress will do in the future to close the gap between current projected FICA revenues and projected benefits.

These two are different because the Government can do various things to close that gap. Huntsman mentions only cutting benefits or moving the SS retirement age to either 70 or even 75, so that enough will be left in the fund to close the revenue/benefits gap. But there are other ways of doing this easily; most notably removing the payroll tax cap so that the well-off, or those who are prospering, will pay the same share of their income into Social Security as most of the rest of us, and/or there can also be gradual small increases in the employee and employer contributions that will close the projected gaps indefinitely.Other points of less importance, and moral arguments, which from my point of view are among the most important, about the right to a decent secure retirement for the elderly are made, as well.

But, there is one point, the most important one of all, which is not made in all these “progressive” push back arguments against Abby Hunstman’s right wing Petersonian “Fix the Debt” rant. That is the point that there is no entitlement crisis and no emergency, and neither an increase in payroll taxes, nor robbing from “future generations” is necessary to close the projected gap after 2033 because Congress can pass legislation providing for annual automatic funding of expected costs for all SS and Medicare trust funds.

That’s done now for Supplementary Medical Insurance (Medicare Part B), and Prescription Drug Benefits (Medicare Part D), and the same practice using similar legislative language can be extended to the SS Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI) trust funds. End of story. Once that is done, no gaps between SS revenue and benefits can be projected by institutions, such as CBO, under current law.

You may doubt this solution by pointing out that legislation like this just pushes off Huntsman’s Social Security solvency problem to the Treasury at large, rather than its being SS’s problem, but it doesn’t solve the real insolvency problem. Only it does, because the Government as a whole has no fiscal solvency problem, since it can always use its authority to create the reserves in the Treasury spending accounts to pay all its bills including all those exceeding its revenues.

The customary way of creating such reserves is to sell Treasury debt instruments, destroying reserves in the private sector, and getting the Fed to place an equal amount of reserves in its accounts. But, there is another way it can be done under current law, and still other ways open to Congress, if they want to pay all the SS benefits they would have guaranteed by the proposed change in the law that would solve this faux problem.

The way any gap appropriated by Congress can be closed under current law, is to use Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS) to do it. As many of my readers know, I’ve explained how this would work in my e-book. But, the basic idea is that coin seigniorage can be used by the Treasury to require the Fed to use its reserve creation authority to place reserves in Treasury accounts, without Treasury engaging in any additional taxing or borrowing.

So, this capability coupled with Congress providing for annual automatic funding would end the Huntsman, Peterson, Bowles, Simpson, Ryan, and Obama revenue gap problems with Social Security and all other entitlements, for that matter, without these poor folks having to worry about taxing the rich, like them. And, if Congress doesn’t like that alternative way of placing reserves in Treasury’s accounts so it can spend Congressional appropriations, then it can always just go ahead and place the Fed within the Treasury Department, giving the Secretary the direct authority to order the Fed to fill its accounts with enough reserves to cover any revenue shortfalls, without either raising taxes or issuing more debt instruments.

So, these are the easy ways to end the faux crisis which won’t befall us anyway until 2033. Why won’t the “progressives” pushing back against Abby Huntsman mention solutions like these? Why do they, instead, always propose solutions that will raise taxes on the wealthy? Are they afraid to let the people know that the Government isn’t like a household and doesn’t have the same financial problems they have, just written large? Are they so insistent on solutions that will tax higher income and wealthy people, because they must kill the two birds of full employment and greater equality through taxing with a single stone?

Moving toward greater economic equality is a focus we ought to prioritize very highly, but getting that done is a separate issue from defeating deficit terrorism by taking the deficit reduction and faux entitlement crises off the table so full resources can be devoted to strengthening the safety net and legislating programs essential for getting millions of Americans on their feet again and contemplating the future with hope. That, in itself, will lessen inequality.

And after that is done, we can then turn our attention to programs primarily focused on creating greater economic equality. But until it is done, let us focus on stopping the bleeding of working and middle class Americans and restoring them to the economic health and sense of economic opportunity, that we’ve always thought was so important to American life.

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

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What Now?

8:34 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Today, John Boehner bowed to the inevitable logic of the impending political season and placed a “clean” debt ceiling increase bill on the floor of the House. At this writing, the bill passed with 28 Republican and 193 Democratic votes. Now it moves on to the Senate, where it is expected to pass in time to allow the Treasury to keep issuing debt instruments.

So, now we have had agreement on a budget partially rolling back the sequester, and the Republican leadership appears to have decided not to have another debt ceiling crisis. I wrote a post called “What Happens Now?” just after the Government shutdown ended last October. There I analyzed the political situation and made a number of predictions about the short-term future. Here’s how I answered the question: “Growth and Jobs or Shutdowns and Debt Ceiling Crises?” Read the rest of this entry →

Does the Debt Ceiling Have to Be Raised?

7:03 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Lately, the word out of Washington, DC from the plugged in people is that there will be no debt ceiling crisis coming up before the election. Politico says so, and so does the National Journal. MSNBC also agrees.

But not so fast, says the Washington Post, echoing the Wall Street Journal provided the House Republicans can agree on “. . . an extortion demand.” If they can, then we wll have another debt ceiling crisis.

Here’s a statement from Dave Johnson at the Center for the American Future (CAF) characterizing the possible crisis from a “progressive” point of view.

“Republicans voted for a budget that caved in to many of their economy-sabotaging, hostage-ransom austerity demands. Now the “debt ceiling” has to be raised in February so the government can pay for that budget that Republicans voted for. Republicans are saying no way without a new ransom. Or they’ll blow up the economy. Even hinting at this is economic sabotage.

This is a false statement. The false part of it is the flat unqualified claim that the debt limit must “. . . be raised in February so the Government can pay for that budget the Republicans voted for.”

By now it’s common knowledge that the President can order the Treasury to mint platinum coins with very high face values to fill the Treasury’s spending account with seigniorage. It’s also somewhat less well-known that the Treasury can use consols, a type of security whose principal never needs to be paid back by the Government to generate revenue violating the debt limit. There are other probably less effective options the President might use to avoid breaching the debt ceiling too. Seven options are evaluated in this series and one or more of these options are proposed in many other places and have been discussed for a few years now. There’s no excuse for Dave Johnson not to know about these alternatives. Yet he’s characterizing the crisis falsely, unless we think he can show that none of these other options can work, and certainly he didn’t even attempt to do that in his post, and has never considered them anywhere else.

Johnson goes on:

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has announced that Congress must increase the debt ceiling by late February. Extreme measures that the Treasury takes to put off the need to sell some bonds to pay bills (authorized by Congress) will be used up and the country will no longer be able to honor its obligations.”

And this is another, at least misleading, statement, since there are other “extreme measures” left for the Treasury to use, including the previously mentioned platinum coin seigniorage and consols. Treasury has not used these measures, but an analysis of the situation that ignores them and leaves the impression that ALL “extreme measures” will shortly be used up is at best incomplete; at worst, misleading; and also lets the Administration off the hook when they do have alternatives to either letting the Republicans push the Government into default; or giving in to or compromising with them on their demands.

Over my last few posts, I’ve focused on “progressives” mis-characterizing fiscal issues rather than on Republicans or conservatives doing so. Why is this important? Because the only chance for change that helps the 99% is for people who care about them to get the education right and tell them the truth. I don’t know if Washington villagers aren’t doing that because they’re ignorant, or bought, or are afraid they’ll look silly if they tell the truth, or are just trying to put forward short statements about issues that they think must inevitably oversimplify the landscape of thought about issues. But whatever the motivation is for their very filtered communication, its systematic nature, with all the denizens of DC, with the exception of Chris Hayes avoiding certain subjects since the President declared them “off the table”, even at the cost of factual errors in their statements, is unacceptable because it damages democracy by unduly limiting the frames and alternatives that they “broadcast” to people; damaging their ability to learn and to make their own personal choices about what they will think.

It’s one thing for conservatives to do this, because they believe in Plato’s noble lie anyway. But for progressives it’s simply a travesty and must stop now. Bloggers at CAF must know by now that there are such things as platinum coins and consols and governments that, even without further debt issuance, cannot run out of money unless they deliberately choose to do so. To believe otherwise is to believe that they live under a rock. They need to begin recognizing these possibilities in their writing, because the progressives they are writing for need to go beyond taxing, borrowing, and spending, when they think about fiscal policy and our spending limits.

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

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More Tropes of the New Populism

4:51 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

The New Populism, if it exists, and isn’t just a creation of Washington villagers wanting to give an attractive name to the new feint of the Administration toward the progressive base of the Democratic Party, can be a turning point for America’s domestic economy, but only if it can avoid certain tropes, shibboleths, and myths that people associated with it, such as Bernie Sanders, and various other supposedly “left” members of the Democratic Party in Congress seem to delight in reinforcing. Again, Robert Borosage’s little piece on “The New Populism” provides more examples of such tropes:

Much of this debate has been framed around the faltering recovery, as the Congress perversely punted on the opportunity to rebuild America when we could borrow money for virtually nothing, with construction workers idle and eager to work. But in the end, this is a question of making the public investments we need, and paying for it by ending the tax dodges and tax breaks that enable the rich and the multinationals to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. The Congressional Progressive Caucus budget shows what is possible, while still bringing our long-term debt under control.

Well, Congress did that, and the Treasury certainly could have borrowed “money for virtually nothing,” and spent it on infrastructure and the public commons while creating many millions of new jobs and cutting greatly into our massive unemployment problem. However, why should Borosage and others writing about the new populism assume that such deficit spending has to be accompanied by borrowing money? Read the rest of this entry →

The New Populism Needs to Get This Straight

11:12 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Let’s look again at the new populism through the lens provided by Robert Borosage in his recent attempt to tell us what it is about. He says:

The apostles of the new inequality have unrelenting sought to starve the public sector. President Reagan opened the offensive against domestic investments. Perhaps the hinge moment was in the final years of the Clinton administration when the budget went into surplus, and Clinton, the finest public educator of his time, pushed for paying down the national debt rather than making the case for public investment. He left the field open for George W. Bush to give the projected surpluses away in tax cuts skewed to the top end.

Pop!Tech 2008 - Juan Enriquez
The hinge moment wasn’t then. It was when he decided, either early in his first term, or even before he took office, to rely on deficit reduction coupled with low interest rates from Alan Greenspan, on the advice of Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, rather than on deficit spending on human capital investments as advocated by Robert Eisner and Robert Reich. Rubin’s victory in the internal debates within the Administration was well-known at the time (1993), and set the deficit reduction course that played along with the Fed’s bubbles to create the private sector debt-fueled “goldilocks” prosperity, and surpluses of his second term. By the time Clinton faced the choice Borosage refers to, the die had already been cast. It was very unlikely that Clinton would turn away from further Government austerity policy, and turn instead toward investments in infrastructure, public facilities and “human capital.” Read the rest of this entry →

Bernie Sanders: Self-shackled Champion of the People

1:48 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

I gotta love Bernie Sanders, because he seems so much like people I grew up with and like myself too, and he also seems to have that passion for equality and democracy that is so important for the future of America. Sometimes I think Bernie is one of the few champions of the people left in Congress. But I also think that along with other progressives he has constructed chains for himself that prevent him from being as effective a champion of the people as he otherwise might be.

His chains are the chains of either false beliefs or a decision not to speak the truth about fiscal matters for fear that the “very serious people” in the Washington village will marginalize him even more than they do right now. I can’t say which of these is true, but I think whichever reason is operative, his self-shackling hurts his effectiveness.
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Dick Durbin Insults Everyone Else’s Intelligence About Social Security

3:33 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Yesterday on Fox, Senator Dick Durbin said:

WALLACE: I’m going to talk about ObamaCare on a second, but you’re not answering my question. Why does taxes — why do taxes have to be on the table? Why can’t you just make a deal, short-term spending for long-term entitlement reform — which, Senator, you support and President Obama support. You have supported the idea of some entitlement reform.

DURBIN: That’s right. I do, and I’ll tell you why — because Social Security is going to run out of money in 20 years. I want to fix it now, before we reach that cliff.

Medicare may run out of money in 10 years, let’s fix it now. And that means addressing the skyrocketing cost of health care. That’s what ObamaCare is focused on, and yet, the Republicans want nothing to do with it.

If we don’t focus on the health care and dealing with the entitlements, the baby boom generation is going to blow away our future. We don’t want to see that happen. We want to make sure that Social Security and Medicare are solid.

The “. . . may run out of money. . . . ” and “. . . dealing with entitlements. . . “ memes, in reply to Chris Wallace’s question suggests that a deal trading increased revenues for Social Security and other entitlement cuts is acceptable to him. So, Durbin’s argument is that because Social Security Trustee and CBO projections, based on very pessimistic economic growth projections for the whole period, show a shortfall in the Social Security “Trust Fund” in 20 years, it is acceptable to make entitlement cuts now if the Democrats can get increased revenue from higher taxes, as if entitlement “reform” were the only way to meet the perceived Social Security solvency problem. But who would it be acceptable to? Read the rest of this entry →

Lavoie’s Critical Look at Modern Money Theory: A Reply

5:38 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

In October 2011 Marc Lavoie, a post-keynesian economist, very friendly to Modern Money Theory (MMT) wrote a paper presenting a friendly critical look at MMT. In his conclusion, Lavoie states that “. . . the neo-chartalist analysis is essentially correct . . . “ affirming his substantial agreement with MMT’s analysis of banking operations and fiscal realities in nations with non-convertible fiat currencies, with floating exchange rates and no debts in currencies they do not issue, as well as MMT’s analysis of Eurozone viability. But he goes on to say (p. 25):

“There is nothing or very little to be gained in arguing that government can spend by simply crediting a bank account; That government expenditures must precede tax collection; that the creation of high powered money requires government deficits in the long run; that central bank advances can be assimilated to a government expenditure; or that taxes and issues of securities do not finance government expenditures.”

So, Lavoie questions the wisdom of MMT economists and writers making certain counter-intuitive statements he perceives as certainly questionable, perhaps untrue, and also confusing to people, economists and decision makers trying to understand MMT writings. He considers these statements an important barrier to understanding, and he wants this ‘baggage’ to be discarded because he thinks it hurts MMT and post-keynesian efforts to get important new approaches to economics accepted.

Recently, Lavoie’s work was used in a very vigorous and important discussion at Rodger Malcolm Mitchell’s Monetary Sovereignty web site by a commenter named “Tom,” questioning some of Rodger’s formulations and the statements of other commenters who defended the MMT and MS positions. I participated in the discussion, but also concluded that it would be more useful to write a more formal reply to answer Lavoie’s question of what is gained by taking some of the positions MMT and MS writers often take. This is my reply.

The Consolidated Government Assumption

Well, let’s set the parameters of this discussion. When MMT writers refer to the Government, they don’t mean just the Executive Branch or the Treasury. They include in “the Government,” the whole central government including the Congress, the Supreme Court, and the so-called “independent agencies” including the Federal Reserve — the Central Bank of the United States. Now, there is wide disagreement about whether the Fed, comprised of its Board of Governors, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), and the Regional Fed Banks are a Government agency. I won’t try to resolve those disagreements in this post. I’ll just assume for purposes of this discussion that the system comprised of these institutions and their interaction as created by the Congress, is part of the Federal Government under the full authority of the Congress to regulate.

Whether this is right or not is disputable, and I’m sure some of my friends among the commenters will dispute it. But, what is not open to dispute is that when MMT writers make the claims attributed to them by Lavoie, this is what they are assuming. So, if one wants to refute these claims he or she must argue against the basic assumption, or failing that one must critique the MMT claims by first stipulating to that key MMT assumption, for the sake of argument.

Lavoie disagrees with the MMT assumption that it is useful to see the Government, especially the Treasury and the central bank, from a consolidated point of view for purposes viewing the reality of fiscal operations. He does not dispute this by claiming that the central bank isn’t part of the Government, and in my view he presents no compelling argument why the MMT conceptual consolidation of the Government and the central bank is incorrect; but, in spite of this he opts to view the Government and the central bank as separate entities because he finds that view more illuminating for his own analytical purposes.

He’s entitled to do this, of course. But, in evaluating his view that MMT gains little or nothing from various statements it makes, I think one needs to keep in mind that what is gained may look different if one accepts the consolidated Government point of view than if one doesn’t. Now, let’s get to each of the MMT claims Lavoie questions and try to answer his question about what is gained by asserting them.


“Government can spend by simply crediting a bank account;. . . ”

I think MMT economists and writers point this out because it is true, provided that all parts of the Governmental spending system are aligned. That is, if spending is appropriated by the Congress and the Federal Reserve banking agent of the Treasury places the reserves in the Treasury General Account, then the Government can, and most often currently does, spend by crediting private sector bank accounts. So, the question now becomes what is gained by simplifying the above explanation into the short claim above?

And the answer is that MMT wants people to know that their Government, as a whole, can spend freely if it wants to, because if MMT can convey that message to people, then they will be in a position to deny the claims of the austerity-mongers that the Government just doesn’t have the money and cannot get it, because it must either tax or borrow, and then face inescapable “funding” constraints on both options. If we could get to the point of public recognition that such a claim is false, then that would be a great, enabling, political gain in the fight for MMT-based policies.

Looked at in other words, MMT writers see the power of the austerity position on fical policy in its claim that “There Is No Alternative” (TINA). The idea that the Consolidated Government spends by simply marking up accounts creating its fiat money in the private sector is a powerful one in beginning to make the case that “There Are Good Alternatives” (TAGA) to austerian fiscal policy.


“. . . government expenditures must precede tax collection; . . . “

MMT doesn’t exactly say that. What it says, as Lavoie recognizes in his detailed analysis in the paper, is that from a logical point of view there has to have been government spending of the currency unit of choice allowing people to accumulate that currency, before it can be used to pay government tax obligations. That doesn’t mean that MMT is saying that government spending must precede tax collections on any given month, or given day, or given year. As Stephanie Kelton puts it in her account of the way in which deficit spending creates net financial assets:

“As we in the MMT tradition consistently insist, spending must, as a matter of logic, precede taxation in the first instance (for it would be impossible to collect dollars from the private sector unless they had first been spent into existence by the public sector). But in the real world, the Treasury receives tax payments on a daily basis, and government checks are clearing bank accounts on a daily basis as well. So there is really no objective beginning point or ending point. You can begin with spending if you prefer. But it will not alter the result.”

So, I think Lavoie has overstated this MMT claim. If he doubts the validity of the claim made as a point of logic then I think it’s up to him to explain how people can have the currency needed to pay taxes without the Government, in the MMT meaning of that term, spending in the first place to originate the process of establishing the legitimacy and value of the currency.

“. . . the creation of high powered money requires government deficits in the long run; . . . “

High-powered money includes cash money and reserves emanating from the Government, including the Federal Reserve. If there’s no deficit spending the Government is destroying as much money through taxation as it is spending/creating. And so, it is not doing any net high powered money creation. MMT writers simplify a bit when they they say “the creation of high powered money” rather than “the net creation of high powered money” but I think it’s easy to excuse the simplification since the word “net” tends to make people’s eyes glaze over, and much MMT writing is an attempt to communicate with the broader public, rather than just other economists.

Lavoie seems to think that net high powered money creation isn’t necessary for an economy, even if it is good to have. He says:

“While I would certainly agree that government deficits in a growing environment are appropriate, as it provides the private sector with safe assets, which can grow in line with private, presumably less safe, assets, it is an entirely different matter that government deficits are needed because there is a need for cash. Even if the government keeps running balanced budgets, central bank money can be provided whenever the central bank makes advances to the private sector.”

Of course, it’s true that the central bank can provide money to the private sector through lending and asset swaps; but this kind of money creation is not net money asset creation unmatched by a corresponding liability. So, all it can do in the long run is to produce unsustainable credit bubbles that will periodically crash the economy, rather than net money asset creation, which can support the continuous creation of real wealth.

The gain in using formulations like the one Lavoie critiques is that these and related expressions provide a counter to the conditioning of people to the idea that deficits are somehow a negative state that ought to be avoided as much as possible. Lavoie is certainly no opponent of deficit spending, but I think perhaps, he’s not giving deserved recognition to the difficulties MMT economists have been having in fighting the world view of austerity that looks at deficits as overwhelmingly negative states that ought to be minimized and eventually avoided. A negative view of deficits as immoral is fundamental to the austerity posture in fiscal politics. If we can get people to agree that deficits are necessary for nominal wealth accumulation in the longer run, then we will greatly weaken the negative view of deficits that is so important to austerians.


“. . . . central bank advances can be assimilated to a government expenditure; . . .

I’m not sure what Lavoie has in mind here. It’s not clear to me what he means from the analysis in his paper, and I’ve never seen an MMT writer say anything like the above statement.


“. . . taxes and issues of securities do not finance government expenditures. . . . ”

Lavoie wonders what is gained by a statement like this after he has shown through an analysis using T-accounts that the Treasury borrows from the private sector when it needs to deficit spend. Then he says (p. 18):

“The purpose of this whole exercise is to show that there is no point in making the counter-intuitive claim that securities and taxes do not finance the expenditures of central governments with a sovereign currency. Even in the case of the US federal government, securities need to be issued when the government deficit-spends, and these securities initially need to be purchased by the private financial sector. It seems to me that the consolidation argument – the consolidation of the central bank with the government – cannot counter the fact that the US government needs to borrow from the private sector under existing rules.”

However, it’s just not true that the Consolidated Government needs to borrow from the private sector to deficit spend under existing rules. Here are four reasons why this is not so.

First, “existing rules” include the Constitution of the United States which states the most fundamental rules of all for the Consolidated Government. Article One of the Constitution provides Congress with the authority to create money without limit and to appropriate spending with or without borrowing. That authority is a fact. And it is important for people to recognize that any constraints on the authority to create money without issuing debt instruments that may exist in current practices are, as MMT says, self-imposed constraints.

Second, apart from existing constitutional authority to delegate authority to the Treasury to spend without borrowing, there is also the fact that in addition to those rules that appear to constrain the Treasury component of the consolidated Government to only taxing and borrowing to deficit spend, there is also legislation that allows the Treasury to coin money, deposit it at the Fed, force the Fed to provide reserves in return for that deposit, and proceed to have the seigniorage revenue resulting from this process “swept” into the Treasury General Account (TGA), the spending vehicle of the Federal Government.

Seigniorage has always been a relatively minor source of reserves for Treasury. However, an act passed in 1996 provides the authority to mint platinum coins of arbitrary face value to use in the process of gaining seigniorage. Face values on these coins can be in the many trillions of dollars and can fill the public purse to arbitrarily high levels. These reserves can only be spent on Congressional appropriations and repaying Federal debts and interest due, so this capability doesn’t take away the purse strings from the Congress. But it does make Lavoie’s claim that the consolidated Government needs to borrow from the private sector to deficit spend under existing rules untrue; even overlooking the constitutional authority of Congress to amend current constraints on the Treasury’s ability to generate reserves “out of thin air.”

Third, there is the issue of whether the Treasury is really borrowing money, when it issues debt instruments in return for the Consolidated Government’s own fiat. MMT economists often point out that when the Government “borrows” money it is not like you or I borrowing money. Yes, the Government must repay in both cases, and in both cases the term ‘debt’ is used. But, a) the Government’s debt is more like the liability of a bank to its depositors, than it is like the liability you or I might have to the bank.

The Government, in selling its debt, is functionally providing the equivalent of a time deposit opportunity to depositors, rather than borrowing money from people who are incurring a risk that they won’t be repaid. In fact, the Government’s “time deposit” carries the same risk with it that a “time deposit” placed in a bank does, since it is the Government that insures such deposits.

And b) what sort of ‘debt’ is it that provides no burden at all on the borrower and pays a return to the lender without exposing that lender to risk? It certainly isn’t like a ‘debt’ that you and I or any user of a currency incurs. The reason is that the power and authority of the consolidated Government to create reserves is unlimited, so no matter how circuitous the process of generating those reserves may be, the issue is never in doubt. The Government can always create the reserves it needs to repay its debts. And under the 14th Amendment, to the US Constitution, section four, the US cannot default on its ‘debts.’

Fourth, “the counter-intuitive claim that securities and taxes do not finance the expenditures of central governments with a sovereign currency” is true if one considers carefully the term “finance.” When you or I have to “finance” our spending we must do it from money we acquire from others through our economic activity including our lending. But, the Consolidated Federal Government in the end creates money from the Fed’s power to generate reserves, and the Treasury’s (US Mint’s) power to generate currency (ordered by the Fed) and coins.

The Treasury may tax and borrow as an important part of its spending operations, but that doesn’t mean that it is the Consolidated Government that ultimately “finances” these spending operations through these measures. The Treasury may use these measures plus seigniorage to generate the reserves that end up in the TGA; but the Consolidated Government, viewed as whole, ultimately enables and facilitates the Treasury’s spending through exercising its collective authority to create reserves by fiat in the TGA in response to Treasury’s tax, debt instrument sales, and seigniorage-producing activities. It does not “finance” its spending in the manner we normally associate with the term “finance.”

So, what do MMT writers gain by claiming that the Consolidated Government doesn’t ”finance” deficit spending by “taxing” or “borrowing?” I think the answer is that we continue to underline the central point that governments sovereign in their own currency have no solvency concerns, because they have an unlimited capability to generate nominal wealth. This point is very central to both MMT and MS, because it implies that austerity is an untenable position in fiscal policy, and that the whole litany of neoliberal concerns about the sky falling someday because the Government is running out of money is just a fairy tale.

This point is where the action is politically, and much of the effort of MMT and MS writers is devoted to demonstrating it in various ways, and underlining it again and again in order to overthrow the neoliberal paradigm of economic thought. I think that overthrow is our main messaging objective, and that objective is served by the various counter-intuitive statements that Lavoie views as “baggage” MMT ought to get rid of.

For my part, I think these statements are both true and also important in creating our alternative paradigm. Paradigms advance by creating cognitive dissonance in those who accept the old paradigm or who are neutral in relation to that paradigm. That is, I think, exactly what we are doing.

And out of that dissonance we are beginning to see change. Let us hope that we will see that change accelerate over the next few years so that the world and its various nations will be able to end the global move toward plutocracy, and a new feudalism that is gradually impoverishing the middle class and ending the hope brought by freedom and democracy everywhere this new feudalism advances.

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)